Randalls Island Park Alliance

Meet Our Horticulture Crew Member: Jean Hurkin-Torres

In What's in Bloom on April 23, 2012 at 5:06 pm

By Jean Hurkin-Torres

Each day I come to work at Randall’s Island I am keenly aware of the boulders that line the roads here. Rocks have always been essential to my image of the perfect garden. Traditional Japanese culture viewed rocks in a very different way from the West.  Kami, or spirits, can inhabit them. And although it takes a very long time, rocks grow larger as spirits stay longer in them—so boulders are particularly auspicious. Ancient Japanese gardening manuals reveal all the rules of how to place rocks, and badly positioned rocks can result in bad luck for the house.

 I visited the rock garden at Randall’s in early March and was mesmerized by the dwarf irises—faded blue like old silk kimonos past their prime. The fact that things fade and decay, doesn’t mean they are less beautiful. Perhaps that is what I like most about gardens, throughout the seasons they reflect all of what goes on in life. The most beautiful and interesting gardens are like metaphors of the world.  Perhaps that is why Piet Oudolf is my favorite garden designer. His interest in plants—their shape, texture, leaves, seed pods, feel, sound in the wind—how they appear, in all seasons, is actually also a very Japanese way of viewing the garden. In each season they have their own special beauty. And they are no less beautiful when they are going dormant in winter.

 Years ago I visited the Moss Garden of Saiho-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. It is sublime perfection.  It was the first time I realized a garden can be a work of art. And sometimes a garden…is not just a garden. The temporal garden we pass through and work on is a glorious moment. A really beautiful garden reveals the divine in the natural world. To be in it is to feel the mood and vibrations of nature. A Tibetan recently told me that if you are a gardener in this life, in your next life you will come back very beautiful. Not bad for a job perk.

In Japanese gardens, the idea of borrowed landscape (what is near the garden) is very important. As I travel between the gardens on Randall’s I can’t help but notice how beautiful the rivers are as they sweep around the island and frame all the lovely gardens here. They seem to act as sound insulation in the middle of New York City, creating a deep white noise cushion. Randall’s Island…rocks, water, gardens. Perfect.


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